The Pumas pose for the camera before the race. Many shots like this were taken, just in case anyone slipped and fell in the process.

The fourth race in the Winter League was hosted by Skipton Harriers on Sunday, and, as last year, they’d set out a simple three-lapped course around Aireville Park and adjacent golf course. I use the word ‘simple’ loosely. I can testify that when the Pumas sampled the delights just over a year ago, it was challenging enough. It seems this time around, conditions were worse. Those runners living on high ground had woken up to a covering of snow and there was the ever-so-slight possibility that this race may have had to be put on the back-burner on Health & Safety grounds. Sadly – if that’s the right word – there was no such luck.

They’re off, and for a brief moment, Andy Barnes (extreme right) threatens the leaders.

The Pumas were represented by 27 runners, a number that could possibly have been doubled had Neil Coupe not enticed a ferry load to what he termed a ‘sight-seeing weekend’ of Amsterdam to help celebrate his birthday (by all accounts, he didn’t have to try too hard to get his numbers up). Among his party were several runners who more than likely would have scored points at Skipton, so it could be argued that, despite managing a great set of results regardless, the team could have done even better. This augurs well.

It’s all serious stuff as Jane Cole and Jon Ding tackle the perimeter of the golf course.

Aireville Park is probably picturesque in summer; perhaps not so much at the beginning of February, and the course, around 4½ miles long, was always going to be prove a stern test even before one considered the elements. The main obstacle, indeed, a recurring theme, seems to have been the mud of the thick variety type. The course was changed slightly from the previous year, with the mud section at the entrance to the golf course encountered only on the way in, therefore the runners waded through it just the three rimes as opposed to the six the year before. Having run the perimeter of the golf course and climbed up through the woods, the runners re-entered the park higher up. This meant the route was slightly shorter but it was no less easy because of it. In fact, the general consensus was that the course was harder than last year because of the sapping mud, which was just about everywhere, and worsened with each lap as over 270 runners pounded, slipped and slid their way around.

With his left leg heavily strapped, Pumas’ team organiser Andrew Tudor is already showing signs of discomfort. It’d be a miracle if he saw this one out.

The race was won by Adrian Holliday of Crossgate Harriers, who crossed the line just before Jon Ding was about to start his last lap. But Jon, who finished 133rd, had a great run himself and scored yet again to help the Pumas’ Supervets team attain their highest ever points tally. First home for the team in this category was Robert Shirlaw, who was 86th, and the Supervets, bolstered by the first appearance this season of Jenny Hopkinson (spurred along the way by husband Paul), scored 676 points to finish seventh on the day, their highest placing of the season.

The hunter hunted. A rare event indeed, as Lisa Aspinall finds herself being captured by the camera – before she was forced to retire, obviously.

First Puma home was Veteran Tim Brook, going one better than in his last two outings by finishing tenth. He was followed home by Luke Cranfield (18th), and the Pumas’ Male team scoring was completed by Deke Banks, Andy Haslam, Robert Shirlaw and Vets Rick Ralph and Andy Barnes. They totalled 1,800 points and finished sixth, equalling their position on home soil two weeks earlier.

Eyeing-up his first top ten finish, that’s Tim Brook.

Taking the honour for the first time as first female Puma home was Jane Cole, who ran a superb race to finish 123rd. Classed as the Veteran scorer, Jane was backed up by Ally Canning, Jenny Hopkinson and, scoring for the first time, Sarah Haigh. They totalled 1,103 points and finished fifth.

Sarah Haigh – you can run but you cannot hide.

The Veterans’ scorers were thus Tim Brook, Rick Ralph and Jane Cole; they totalled 856 points, a score which gave them a sensational second position on the day. They were, in fact, just twenty points behind leaders Baildon.  Not only was this the highest position the Vets had achieved – and don’t forget, they were placed only seventh after the first race at Dewsbury – it was also the highest place any of the Pumas’ teams had attained throughout the season (and last season, for that matter).

All hands to the deck…Andy Haslam using a special technique as he tackles this mud heap…
…whilst Paula Snee finds herself on the ropes.

All-in-all, it had been quite a day and once everyone had recovered, experiences were shared, with the main topic of conversation being, of course, the conditions, and in particular, the mud. When Andy Haslam takes to social media to give his account, you know it’s serious stuff. “The course was much more difficult today when compared to last year, purely due to the mud,” The said. “The hill out of the woods, especially on lap three, was horrendous.” Andrew Tudor concurred: “There was mud everywhere,” he said, “The hill up to the top of the golf course was worse [than last year] and even the faster runners were struggling to run up it, and when you fell it was very difficult to get back up and get going.” When asked for his initial reaction, Paul Hopkinson said the course had been “very, very, very muddy”, whilst Dawn Higgins admitted, “It was like having lead boots on,” and when pressed further, had this to say: “Mud? From the initial ascent, then down to the gate, it soon became ankle deep, which was nice; wet feet to start with! The uphill beyond that was muddy, downhill was treacherous due to the mud. The sections through the trees were muddy. Uphill was ridiculously difficult due to the mud (have I mentioned that yet?) but on the plus side, coming down through the trees was so muddy no one was overtaking anyone as it was, you guessed it, muddy!” I think we get her drift. And debutant Lynsay Riding had this to say of her first experience of the Winter League: “I’m glad I did it but I don’t think it’s really for me! I’m not sure whether it was just a bad course because of the muddy conditions but it was really hard to get a proper momentum and pace because of slipping everywhere and it felt a lot more than four miles. It was really tiring and hard work.”

Dawn Higgins had much to say about the conditions when in reflective mood. Just what she was saying at this point wasn’t suitable for family viewing. Debutant Lynsay Riding (left) would help out but has problems of her own,  whilst Jodie Knowles, with a degree of foreboding, awaits her turn.

Everyone had something to say, and it seems they were all glad when it was over. But the final word must be reserved for the aforementioned Andrew Tudor, Ian Evans and Lisa Aspinall. All suffered injuries and, using horse-racing parlance, were pulled up. Andrew retired at the end of the second lap having struggled around on his one good leg, whilst Ian felt his knees giving way on the hills, something that was particularly galling for him as he’d travelled all the way from Manchester especially for the event. Lisa, making her long awaited Winter League debut after capturing so much of it on film, jarred her knee coming down a slope on the second lap and on partner Tim Brook’s medical advice, decided it best not to carry on. Thankfully, upon inspection, none were deemed ready for the knacker’s yard and will hopefully be fit for the next Winter League race hosted by Stainland Lions on 25 February, although Lisa’s involvement is more likely of capturing the action rather than being part of it.

Rick Ralph wades through the mud in the woods on the way to a being third Puma home.

Pumas’ finishing positions;

10 Tim Brook (MV)

18 Luke Cranfield (M)

24 Rick Ralph (MV)

46 Deke Banks (M)

65 Andy Barnes (MV)

77 Andy Haslam (MV)

86 Robert Shirlaw (MSV)

120 Shaun Casey (MV)

123 Jane Cole (FV)

133 Jon Ding (MSV)

141 Ally Canning (F)

174 Paul Hopkinson (MSV)

175 Jenny Hopkinson (FSV)

177 Tom O’Reilly (MV)

203 Sarah Haigh (FV)

212 Lynsay Riding (FV)*

215 Dawn Higgins (FV)

219 Helen Jackson (FV)

220 Jodie Knowles (F)

224 Anna Ralph (FV)

227 Katrina Wood (FSV)

231 Paula Snee (FV)

236 Kathryn Cleaver (FV)

250 Gabriella Kenny (FV)

Lisa Aspinall, Andrew Tudor and Ian Evans all retired.

274 finishers.

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, birthday boy Neil Coupe contemplates what might have been. “There was a conflict of interests.”


Photos courtesy of Dave Butler and Robert Samuels.